Someday, I’ll realize my dream of gathering ethnomusicologists and neuroscientists and engineers and we can finally sit down and work out why it is that the 303 is so damned pleasing. In the meantime, we can obsess over the nuances of different 303 recreations.
Kudos to ADSRsounds for putting that together. They not only compare the original Roland box to the new TB-03 and AIRA TB-3 renditions, but also the analog clone TT-303.
These sorts of comparisons are ultimately subject to your own bias as you watch. But there’s still a lot to glean.
The first video is interesting. The knobs closed test for whatever reason seems to be a punishing test for emulation; I’d heard some die-hard 303 users complain that Roland hadn’t quite gotten it right.
But there are a number of interesting details here. I think you can at least hear the improvements between the TB-3 and the TB-03; the move is generally toward closer accuracy. Also, I think the TT-303 performs pretty poorly as a direct clone – for all the complaints about digital emulation, it seems to do a fairly effective job of recreating the original. That’s not a dig at the TT-303 — on the contrary, it suggests that this “clone” has a little bit of its own character, which might be desirable.
The key is, watch to the end. I think there’s a marginal improvement in sound on the TB-03 over the AIRA TB-3 – on sound alone, I’d choose that.
But generally, you’d be okay with any of these four. The original TB-303 might be something you have a special personal relationship with. But in the music, any one of them works. This is really about what these mean for the music.
That means I think the choice is really down to usability and price (particularly if you find a TT-303 or AIRA TB-3 used deal).
The AIRA is still a great buy, and worth choosing if you like its clever touch note programming. Personally, I would much rather have the direct synth parameter control on the TB-03. The less-clever part of the touch interface was that Roland decided per-preset what parameters you’d control, rather than giving you dedicated knobs for everything. But… that’s if it was an even choice. If someone were, say, parting with an old TB-3 at a good price and I were on a budget, I might well go that way.
The TB-03 meanwhile has a lot going for it in its connectivity, dedicated controls, and compact size.
In other words: stop worrying and go make some acid.